Great article on the BBC today about Stanford professor BJ Fogg (also…great name…) who is teaching his psychology students about the power of persuasion through Facebook.

What Fogg describes as “mass interpersonal persuasion” is essentially peer pressure on acid: there’s a massive need for users to follow the norm. The example given in the story is the profile picture:

“Who wants a question mark in place of their face and what questions does that raise about you? Like, why are you on Facebook? And so basically Facebook sets up an environment where your friends do the persuading to get you to post a picture.” 

It’s easy to see how this applies to other elements of the site: your friend sends you a request to play scrabulous with them, or to take a new quiz, or to see ‘what character’ from xyz you’re most like…etc etc etc.

Fogg’s essentially pointing to that favourite of mine: the ‘people like me’ phenomenon; the power of persuasion when it comes from a peer. And the most interesting part – in Facebook’s case at least – is that it’s not necessarily a known peer, since many of us will have loose connections as their ‘friends’ online. The reason why you find yourself uploading a photograph or installing another twenty applications on ‘what disney character are you’ is because your ‘friends’ ask it of you, not because you want to know whether you’re more like Eeyore or Pooh. Let’s face it: apart from the occasional gem (scrabulous rocks), they’re essentially all a waste of time.

But yet they all have the ability to be wildly popular. Because of this take-up peer recommendation principle.

It’s easy to see the business applications for this principle. Embrace the psychology! Use the power of your brand advocates! Get them to sell your products and drive your key messages!

Rant over.